For some reason Doug Bandow’s bios do not mention where he grew up. David Goldfield’s CV says that although he was born in Memphis he grew up in Brooklyn. I on the other hand grew up within walking distance of a Civil War battle, not much farther from a slave market, numbered among my schoolmates people whose great-great-grandfathers had served on opposite sides in the American Civil War, and I had two great-great-grandfathers who fought for the Union. I think that explains my visceral reaction when Mssrs. Bandow or Goldfield write that the Civil War was unnecessary.

It was necessary as surely as it is the case that there are still people south of the Mason-Dixon Line who refer to the American Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression”, sometimes but not always humorously.

It was baked in. The Civil War was the price that we paid in blood for the U. S. Constitution. I think they are dismissing this too quickly:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

Their claim is the claim that the South would willingly have abandoned slavery or that slavery’s opponents would willingly have allowed it, assertions for which I find little evidence. Lincoln’s election was a signal that slavery would be abolished, the South took it so, and acted accordingly.

27 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    For such a provocative statement in the title, the article is bereft of much argument to support his claim, whatever it might be. (By which I mean, any war is not necessary if we are free to fiddle with the past, change this event here, alter the course of history there; the important thing is the explanation of how it could have been avoided)

    That the war was a terrible thing, and the extent of the dying was unforeseen by many isn’t really such an argument. They could not use Bill & Ted’s time machine, it was broken.

    The religious stuff in the piece is ahistorical nonsense, beyond pointing out that the anti-slavery movement was fueled by evangelical Christianity and difficult to constrain by compromise.

    The main point seems to be this: “In fact, the United States was the only country to require a civil war in order to abolish slavery. In every other nation except Haiti slavery was eliminated peacefully.” The Civil War was started in response to peaceful elimination of slavery that had begun with the American Revolution.

  • ... Link

    Bandow states that if EITHER side had realized the extent of the losses, the war wouldn’t have happened. I believe that to be wrong. If both sides knew the extent of the losses, it would have still happened. One side would have attempted to bluff the other, and rather than acquiesce to something abhorrent, they would have fought.

    An example isn’t hard to find. Surely the people of Europe in the 1930s remembered the horrors of the Great War and had to believe that a new conflagration would likely be at least as bad. Eventually, Hitler’s demands were too much to tolerate (not even knowing of the horror to come in the death camps) and off to war they went.

    What’s troubling is that people are advocating for a new war in Europe, whether they realize it or not.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Cont. As of the 1860s, slaves had been freed both peacefully and through war. Slaves were freed by operation of the American Revolution and the War of 1812. This was well-known at the time and it is useful in understanding General Fremont’s assumptions when he started freeing slaves in Missouri and the backlash when Lincoln rescinded it. Freeing slaves is a war measure, though there is an important difference between emancipation and abolition.

    The peaceful elimination of slavery was also well-known, beginning with Vermont in 1777, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and the prospective banning of the slave trade by 1807. All of the peaceful measures were gradualist (there were still “grandfathered” slaves in the North by 1860), and frequently compensated. The peaceful elimination of slavery by preventing its growth and withdrawing federal support was the established peace policy. It was understood by the slave power and rejected. They understood that a cordon of freedom was being slipped around their necks and it was time to act.

    For opponents of slavery, the “status quo” was in motion — gradual movement towards elimination of slavery at some distant timeline. This movement was disturbed primarily by the Mexican War, but even more so by attempts to fix a peaceful, permanent resolution of the slave issue with the Compromise of 1850, its extreme fugitive slave components, and the Dred Scott decision. This is the alternative “peaceful” resolution that fixes the status quo with the United States as a Slave Republic. And it may not even be that peaceful, given slave-interest appetite for filibustering in Latin America in order to create new markets for “property.” There is probably an alternative time-line where the U.S. Marines invade a banana republic in the early 20th century to force open markets for slaves.

  • jan Link

    The Bandow piece does paint a juxtapositional portrait of the Civil War, in merely the contemplation of having a different means to the end of slavery here in the U.S.

    There is even a thread of similarity to the spectrum of thinking currently being considered in the ME conflicts. Do we resolve those threats abroad by direct confrontation — “boots on the ground” warfare? Or, do we seek resolution by alternative means — softer approaches, if you will — ones that bypass, as much as possible, the messiness and grief of war?

    It seems to me, though, that most human conflict has historically been settled by war. People so invested in their own culture, POVs, ideology just can’t seem to set aside the enormous emotional differences they have with others, meet in the middle, and then step aside with minimal death and destruction in their wake. So, unfortunately I don’t see the determined mind sets of those pro and against slavery being amicably settled simply by fading away over time. For one thing, there is usually a scarcity of one virtue — that of patience — allowing for time to sooth away the acute passions that are generated by given issues of the day.

    BTW, I enjoyed the timeline and attached commentary, PD, supplied by your posts regarding the ebbs and flows of slavery in this country.

  • TastyBits Link

    Slaves were capital. Unless the loss of that capital and their production value were reimbursed, there was going to be a fight.

    Start an anti-copyright movement, and you will learn that Hollywood is not all that anti-war.

  • mike shupp Link

    Slaves were somewhat more than capital. You can own a lot of banknotes but you can’t watch them actually working in the fields for you. You can’t order a banker to whip a greenback or get much thrill from applying the lash yourself. You can’t fornicate with a pile of coins and really watch your capital multiply. You can’t get credit from the congregation at your church when you brag about letting bucks and doubloons live together almost like they were married. You don’t hear the sweet sound of “Master!” when you pinch a penny.

    Need I go on? The slaveowners could have been well reimbursed for emancipating their slaves. Virtually every Northern law maker and newspaper editorial writer said as much. And Southern slave owners, almost to a man, weren’t interested.

    Economics was never the real issue. And I think that blows the notion that the Civil War was “unnecessary” out the window.

  • TastyBits Link

    @mike shupp

    The problem with not knowing human history is that you have no way of know nonsense when you hear it. Wars are fought over money, power, land, resources, and very, rarely religion. Wars are not fought over which hole a person can stick his dick into.

    Slaves were the mode of production. They were an investment, and they were the means to produce an income. The income supported their lifestyle or way of life. The people who declared, organized, funded, and directed the Confederacy were trying to preserve an economic system.

    You will need to provide more than a few examples as proof that this was any different than the previous 10,000 years of human history no matter what your liberal history professors say.

    The economic system was not sustainable, and it was collapsing. This is a different argument.

    Segregation and the Jim Crow laws were about racism, but this too is a different argument. It was.

    Racism exists today. Again, it is a different argument, and it does.

    Many white liberals decrying racism have no use for the black folks they care to be so concerned about. Again it is a different argument, but I have never seen any white liberal voluntarily engaging working class black folks in a setting where black working class folks were the majority.

    I would suggest you begin studying human history. I would recommend your local library, but I am partial to real books. You will need to take notes, and you will need to use index cards. This is the problem with the library. Paperbacks are cheap, and you can mark them up. The problem is that most of the books you will need are out of publication, but Google’s Gutenberg Project has a lot of free ebooks.

    This will be a vast undertaking. You will need to turn off the TV, and there will be no Angry Birds for a while. Some of these works are dry and boring with no pictures, and there are no Cliff Notes. You are going to have to begin to use your own brain cells to put together thoughts and ideas. It is called original thought.

    The downside is that all your friends who think they are geniuses will no longer want anything to do with you once you stop spouting the nonsense. The sheep fear anything they do not understand, but at this point, you will no longer be one of the bleating sheep.

    Do you leave the Cave?

  • mike shupp Link

    Tasty Bits:

    You enjoyed missing my argument, I see.

  • TastyBits Link

    @mike shupp

    Economics was a prime driver of the Civil War. The slaves were the means of production. The slave owners would have to have been reimbursed for their investment plus future earnings. If there were an agreed upon formula, it would have been enormous, but it is doubtful there would have been agreement.

    Using slaves as a means of production is not efficient, and it does not drive agricultural technological innovation. This affects that society as a whole because other innovations are not developed, and innovative thinking is not developed. Simply, the population has not exercised their brains. They may not be biologically devolved, but they do not seem quite as evolved.

    In the industrial world, more efficient mechanical machinery would have been developed eventually, but as we can see today, many people fear the future because of the loss of their income today. Again, this is economic.

    Had the South been allowed to secede peacefully, several possibilities arise. They would have limited development similar to Nigeria, Pakistan, Honduras, or Mexico depending upon how much technology developed.

    The South may have eventually tried to attack the North. The North and the South may have gone to war over new territories. Some of the states may have tried to secede back to the North. Texas may have declared itself a republic again. Mexico may have attacked the South. The Europeans may have decided to attack the South. They could have used the anti-slavery moral argument to acquire new colonies.

    Without the North, the political structure would most likely shift to the plantation owners becoming more like Dukes, Barons, Warlords, etc. The de jure government may not change, but de facto government would be run by these powerful men. Unlike today, this would be done in the open with the de jure government as a paper figleaf.

    This we can glean from history because power is the constant that drives most of human activity (in a historic sense). With wealth they would have power, and they would seek to consolidate and keep that power. Historically, wealth follows power. In the US, the Constitution tries to diffuse power, and this alters the historic formula.

    The wealth slave owners were able to acquire enough power to amass the wealth, but they were not able to amass enough power to protect their wealth. This is what the 3/4th’s Compromise was about. As long as their wealth was not threatened, they would remain part of the Union.

    The power vs economic argument is a subtle one, and it could go either way. Unfortunately, the power argument does not rely upon dicks and holes, but that part of your thesis is applicable to manipulation of the masses by those in power. Those in power will often use the irrational emotions of the masses to achieve goals that may not be best/applicable for the masses.

    Understanding history allows us to understand the present. In today’s events, emotions are being manipulated in order for those with power to achieve their goals. The simple application is US politics, but the more subtle application is terrorist politics.

    If terrorist leaders are rational no matter how much we may dislike them, then their motives must be rational no matter how much we dislike them. If so, power is number one and wealth is number two. When they chop off heads, there is a purpose, and that purpose is not to increase US campaign donations or votes.

    This also applies to gang infest areas.

  • mike shupp Link

    Tasty Bits:

    I think your argument is flawed. Your points as I read them are that (a) Southern society was based economically on slavery, (b) that slavery was economically inefficient for various reasons, and (c) given seperation but absent a war, the North and South would have evolved in different directions, likley at different rates of growth. From which it could be argued that a Civil War which preserved the Union of the states — with or without the abolution of slavery — wasn’t a necessary historical event.

    Possibly so. One could write a slew of SF novels with such a theme or something related — come to think of it. Harry Turtledove did.

    I’ll buy point (a). Slavery was embedded in Southern society. I’ll not go into a song-and-dance once more, since I’ve done that. I read Mary Boykin Chestnut’s A DIARY FROM DIXIE a long long time ago, and if you haven’t, let me recommend it.

    Point (b) is … more debatable. Let me point out that nowhere in the world has slavery died out purely for economic reasons, unless we consider Western Europe and possibly China, where it was supplanted by serfdom.

    And as a red herring, let’s consider Serfdom. This is a forced systemn of labor which failed in much of Western Europe after the 13th Century, after the Black Death. Arguably it survived in some fashion in Scandanavia until the 19th Century, and in China until the 20th. Also arguably, it was a major element in Central and South American societies, both before and after the Spanish conquests. In more modern times, serfdom was imposed on peasants in Central and Eastern Europe in the period of 1550-1600 or so and not ended — always by state decree, rather than economics –until the later 19th Century. A proper cynic might argue that courvee labor — practiced in French provinces in the 19th Century, and American prisons up through the year 2014 — is a continuation of this tradition.

    It’s not clear from a modern perspective to what extent slavery and serfdom should be viewed as the same thing — serfs and slaves when they coexisted seem to have perceived differences, which might not impress you or me. But a lot of modern arguments about the economic failure of slavery seem based on what we today perceive when looking at serfdom. (My view anyhow.)

    Getting back to slavery. Great Britain outlawed it in 1809 or so. Brazil did so in the late 19th Century. The UN officially outlawed it anywhere on earth in the 1940’s, but stories exist about its continuation up to the present. In the modern age — since 1300 or so — there’s no example anywhere of slavery going out of existence entirely through economic forces. Emancipation ALWAYS takes overweening state action, driven by ideological capture of the state machinery — i.e., liberals outlaw slavery, to the despair of conservatives. Except in a handful of cases — Santo Domingo and ??? — where slave insurrections lead to freedom.

    (more to come)

  • mike shupp Link

    Tasty Bits (continued)

    Based on the above, I submit that Slavery has not failed around the world on obvious economic grounds. I’d argue as well that slavery in American South was not failing before the Civil War. More saliently, I’d argue that Northern and Southern Americans before the Civil War did not see slavery as a failing economic system.

    Arguably, it was an expanding system — leaping westward at a prodigious rate as population spread in the early 19th Century into the virgin lands of Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and after 1845 into Texas. Moreover, it could be immensely profitable, especially after Eli Whitney’s 1794 invention of the cotton gin.

    The text to go to here is Fogel and Engerman’s 1974 TIME ON THE CROSS. I’ll not insist you agree completely with the thesis that Southern agriculture was just as profitable as Northern industry, since the book has inspired controversy. I’ll just make the point that if Northern social scientists in the late 20th century could find such an argument plausible, then it’s not a stretch to think that Southern planters in the mid 19th century could also feel the argument plausible — and behave accordingly.

    Amd going on, Southern slavery was extraordinarily adaptable — the woods are full of stories about freed slaves who owned slaves of their own, slaves who only nominally had masters and existed as self-employed farriers and blacksmiths and carpenters, slaves who rose to freedom and who continued their employment as slavedrivers and foremen. slaves who often labored at mills and small factories beside lower class whites, slaves who maintained small farms alongside poor whites with small farms, etc. Things were more complex than the people who read UNCLE TOM’S CABIN generally imagined.

    (more to come)

  • mike shupp Link

    Tasty Bits (continued)

    So now to (c). Could a viable independent South have existed as a state if its succession had not resisted by the North? I think the answer is Yes. Certainly the horse-drawn reapers and harvesters of the North would have been purchased — or copied — in the South. Northern financiers and industrialists would have happily invested there. Factories and modern banking would have come, and 20th century schemes for social insurance. Probably — I’d like to think! — emancipation would have come, likely over a long period of time.

    Would this indpendent state — let’s call it a Confederacy for the sake of simplicity — have been equally rich or equally developed or (more or less) equally egalitarian as the remnant Northern USA? Hard to say. Could a diminished USA and a Confederacy have existed side by side? Writers like to assume so — McKinley Cantor did in the 1950’s (IF THE SOUTH HAD WON THE CIVIL WAR), or Ward Moore in 1953 (BRING THE JUBILEE) or Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory series. Although I note that as a rule, in these stories enmity continues after the war ends. We’ve been on terms of perfect peace with Mexico since 1846 or so (This is sarcasm BTW), so I’ll note the fiction is …. well., fiction.

    Personally, I think the broader issue is open — the prewar South was racist, despite accomodations to reality; the postwar South (and the untouched-by-war South) would have been racist; and without the radicalization of the Civil War, the North would have been much more racist than what we know today (Turtledove really nails this BTW). I’ll go along with the idea that indpendent Northern and Southern US states might have gone off in separate-but-equal fashions, rather like the US and Canada. I’m not so sure it would have been like the US and Mexico. (Although…. if you’d like alternate history with this kind of theme, let me recommend Robert Sobel’s FOR WANT OF A NAIL (1973), the most “academic” alternate history ever set in print) .

    (Also — if it isn’t clear by now, I recommend Harry Turtledove’s books with Forthright Praise and Honest Respect, supplemented by Zeal and Enthusiasm and even downright SCREAMING and SHOUTING and SCREAMING).

    Anyhow. Antislavery forces in the North could have offered compensated emancipation to the South. This was something bruited about as late as 1861. And the Southern states were never interested BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT THE FUTURE WAS ON THEIR SIDE. The people in power in the South though Slavery would endure through time, and ought to endure, and was meant by God Almighty to enure. There was no way in hell to “buy them out.” They thought economcs and history and all of morality was on the side of slaveowners. And the North had a batch of people who feared that economics and history was on the side of slaveowners but that decency and morality was unalterably opposed to slavery, and that the underlying principles of society should be based on morality rather than expedience.

    And in 1861, the adherents of slavery forced the moralists into war. And we live today with the results of that war. And some of us, despite our agnosticism, go to our knees even today with tears in our eyes, to express our gratiude for how that war turned out.

    (to be continued)

  • mike shupp Link

    Tasty Bits (finale):

    I really don’t making long posts. Nobody reads ’em, or nobody comments on ’em, not as long they were anyhow. But since you made a long post to me, even after I snapped at your original long post to me, civility — and something like gratitude — dictates a longish post in response.

    For the record, I’m 67 years old, a middle classed white guy with a college education. I read military history as a hobby, especially Civil War history, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time traipsing about Civil War battlefields, trying to let what I witnessed seep into my skin and how I understand the world.

    Please understand I’m not a pig-ignorant 16 year old.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @mike Shupp, I read your comments and largely agree with them. A few of my own comments:

    1. A lot of the reasons that Time on the Cross is controversial is that the author found that slaves were treated as valuable capital, a point that I’m not sure Tastybits would contest.

    2. I’ve not read any alternative histories, but it would seem to me that the most likely scenario for Southern independence would have been to become a part of the British Informal Empire. Successful British diplomacy was one of the key objectives of the South, but was totally mishandled.

    3. Most compensation plans, included colonization as an element. Colonization was supported even by Radical Republicans until late in the Civil War. This strongly suggests that money to free slaves wasn’t the only issue. The benign explanation is that freed slaves would lack the ability to take care of themselves — moderate slave states like Virginia required a slave-owner to gift property or means of livelihood in order to free his slaves. A less benign explanation is fear of economic competition by more vulnerable whites, in both the North and the South. But the “black codes” in the North against free blacks migration suggest simple racism is also an explanation. Free the slaves, but blacks not wanted.

    4. The federal government as late as 1862 was willing to compensate Delaware slave-owners for whatever gradual emancipation plan they adopted, and they adopted none. Why didn’t Delaware agree? I assume it was a matter of politics, slavery was tied up in economic and moral issues, but also political power.

  • TastyBits Link

    @mike shupp

    I appreciate your reply’s length, depth, and thought.

    I am not making the argument that slavery would have gone away due to economic concerns. It would not have gone away due to economic concerns, but manual labor will be replaced with machinery when there is some reason to replace it. If you own slaves and their children, there is little reason to purchase machinery. Cotton picking is labor intensive, and until the 1950’s it was done by hand.

    At the time, there was no replacement for manual labor. The government would have had to provide free labor until machinery could be developed. In addition, there was the loss of income from the slave trade.

    Serfs were slaves, but most people today do not understand this. They were tied to the land, but they could not be sold. The last Black Death die off allowed movement, but it also rearranged wealth. The combination is what started the Renaissance.

    The losing side always thinks they can win the war, and many on the losing side think they can win the war if they fight a little longer. This is nothing new. The wealthy slave owners has amassed wealth, and they did not want to lose that wealth. The North was or they thought the North was endangering their wealth.

    To me, it does not appear that the North was trying to acquire power, land, or wealth. It appears, they were trying to appease the South while stilling making slow progress towards a slave -free country. Historically, the signs of a power grab by the North are not present, but the individuals may have thought they were.

    Agricultural based societies/countries are usually not prosperous. With machinery, it is possible for modern agricultural corporations to be profitable, but there are a lot of government subsidies. Without an industrial base, the South would not have been able to keep up with the North or Europe, and the wealthy slave owners would now be powerful slave owners. Powerful men rarely ever allow anything to undermine their power.

    Texas was different, and the oil boom would have industrialized them quickly. Until oil, the Deep South would have remained a technological wasteland. At best, the slaves would have been used as a cheap source of labor. Outsourcing might have started a century earlier, but they would more likely have been colonized first.

    The South was never giving up slavery because for the wealthy slave owners it was their wealth, and they went to war to gain power to protect their wealth. Everybody else went along for the ride.

    Power especially, but wealth also, only cares about power and wealth. The person pursuing either may be a racist, but that has nothing to do with the goal. In the pursuit of either, personal preferences and hatreds will be subverted to the larger goal. The blessed will make a deal with the devil to achieve power and/or wealth.

    I suspect that a more power driven person has fewer hatreds, and this is probably true for a wealth driven person. These people do not have time for mundane pleasures such as hatred.

    The freed slaves would have been a problem because of the loss of power also. As citizens, they could move and vote. Representation and representatives would change. Reconstruction represented what they imagined as the loss of power, and the loss of power would mean a loss of wealth. (As usual, the US pulled out long before the job was finished.)

    The Civil War was going to take place if the US was going to remain as a single country, but if it had split, the South would not have been the romantic place many envision. I proposed a few alternatives to support this and to demonstrate that history can take many different paths.

    Historically, slavery is nothing new, and there was nothing new about slavery in the South. What had changed was industrial technology was able to replace manual labor. Slaves had become obsolete.

    I understand that this is offensive to the modern person, but it is historically accurate. I also understand that I am supposed to become enraged when studying history. I do not. It clouds the mind, and it makes application difficult.

    Understanding serfs is important because migration is a large factor in advancing a society. Freeing the serfs was only one factor, and without the Black Plague, it was not enough to eventually end feudalism. In Russia, the freed serfs were no better off. (Everybody was owned by the Czar more or less.)

    This is tangentially related, but I like to get on my soapbox whenever I can. Dred Scott was a bad decision, but Plessy v Ferguson was worse. Until Brown v Board of Education, segregation was legal everywhere, and racism was practiced wherever there were large numbers of black people. It might have been in the shadows, but it was there.

    I started reading primary sources or as close as I could get. If there was a person who had done extensive research in a field, I am open to reading what they wrote, but I am usually more interested in those who go against conventional wisdom. I want to know why they disagree with the agreed upon narrative, and if that means starting from the ground up, so be it.

    I do not read a lot anymore. I prefer books, but that is old fashioned. I am not interested in covering old ground. In many instances, I find the latest theories are things I figures out decades ago. I dug into the mortgage mess, and I learned far more than I really wanted to know. Actually, the people running the show do not have a clue how it works. I considered looking into healthcare, but it is too depressing.

    With the exception of the hard sciences, most of what I learned in college has turned out to be crap. It sounded hokey at the time, but it was easier to give the professor what he wanted. I was more concerned about happy hour, and thermodynamics was kicking my ass.

    Once I actually began reading, I had little patience with yesterday’s college idiots, and I have even less patience with today’s snot nose idiots. Trying to explain to them why they are wrong would take months or years. They do not have the foundation to understand. If you follow any of my posts, you may have determined I am not a dove, but I am constantly fighting with the hawks. This is because they do not understand history.

    I do not play well with others in my demographic, but that is probably obvious.

  • TastyBits Link

    @PD Shaw

    1. … valuable capital …

    If this means that the slave owners treated the slaves well, I do not agree. It was probably true for some, but it was not true for others. In any case, owning a human makes them an animal. You can treat your pet as one of the family, but it is still an animal.

    The benign slave owner has the option of killing his draft animal if it does not perform its duties. It does not matter whether that animal is human or mule. Furthermore, both are replaceable through breeding.

    2. … become a part of the British Informal Empire …

    Would they have been allowed to retain their slaves?

    In my study of history, power explains almost everything, or at least everything with violence. Wealth is only valuable if you can keep it, and this requires power. President Washington relinquishing power was a big f*cking deal.

    In the pre-Civil War years, it is easy to identify the wealth and power. In the post-Civil War years, it is more difficult, and in the post-Reconstruction years, it is even more difficult. In this time, racism is a force being used to gain power, but the power is not a historic power grab. In the US because of the Constitution, it is more difficult to grab power through the traditional means.

    This is a much different discussion, and if conducted unemotionally, a much more productive one. The problem is that it can be subtle. Trying to tease out motives. Is the racist really a racist, or is he using racism to gain power? Does it matter? How do you reverse the effects, and can you reverse them? Is the anti-racist using anti-racism to gain power?

  • TastyBits Link

    @PD Shaw

    Unless there were some laws against it, I am sure that some enterprising slave owner would have come up with a way to make a few bucks from the slaves corpse. They could have been sold to the glue factory like old horses.

    Today’s business owners make the same claims about “valuable capital” as they are tossing workers out. If they could figure out a way to sell Joe “Six-Pack” to the glue factory, they would.

  • PD Shaw Link


    1. slaves as “valuable capital” in the sense that slaveowners understood their property as a valuable investment and treated their property well-enough to maximize a return on the investment. Time on the Cross found that slaves received adequate calories and housing for the time, that Southern incomes were rising, and cotton prices rising from increased demand. Slave prices are rising because slaves are relatively scarce. Economists tend to be skeptical that slaveowners commonly practiced the abuses highlighted by abolitionists, including division of families, not because these didn’t occur, but because it goes against economic self-interest.

    (I don’t know if Ta-Nehisi Coates has read Time on the Cross, but it points to an oversight in calculating reparations; slaves generally received economic benefits comparable to free labor, and perhaps even better. )

    2. “become a part of the British Informal Empire …”

    Southern strategy as far as I understand it was to mimic the American Revolution in (a) never suffering a fatal defeat, whether or not a victory is ever attained, and (b) obtaining foreign power intervention. The Confederacy would have had to make its case to the financial interests of London (not the textile-manufacturing-interests in the North), which would have at least meant adopting the economic policies favorable to Great Britain, and I’m not certain these necessarily included abolition, so long as the accounts were balanced.

  • TastyBits Link

    @PD Shaw

    Economists live in a fantasy world. Well, they live in it until reality kicks them in the head. There are no limits to the amount of power and wealth one can acquire, and there are no boundaries one will not cross to acquire that power and wealth. Economists should study predatory animals.

    While every slave owner was not brutal or murderous, the idea that they were benign fatherly figures concerned about the well being of their wayward charges is beyond a joke. This is why I stopped reading these idiots.

    A slave was your property, and he was no different than a chair. If you got mad and broke the chair, it was your property. If you got mad and broke your slave. It was your property. If you treated your slave like he was the king of the world, you always had the right to break him. It is a big deal.

    The South was doomed from the start. It was a feudal society operating in an industrial representative democracy, and there was no mechanism or desire for change. The large land owners were wealthy, and the slaves were part of their wealth. Their slaves also provided their income and the upkeep of their land.

    These slave owners were the dukes, barons, and others of the ruling peerage, but in a representative democracy, they did not have the power they would have otherwise. As long as their wealth was not threatened, they would remain peaceful, but it would eventually be threatened. If it were not abolishing slavery, something else would have cone along to threaten their wealth and power.

  • The Civil War was not ‘necessary’ in the least, although perhaps it was inevitable.

    The argument that slavery was ‘ingrained’ in southern society by anything other than economic causes is ridiculous. After the U.S. outlawed importing slaves in 1804, the price shot up accordingly. An ordinary field hand in 1861 in today’s money cost between $15 and $18,000, while the the price of a skilled slave – a cook, a seamstress, a carpenter, a valet, a foremen or a blacksmith might be the equivalent of $20,000-$30,000 and up.

    Slaves were needed because they had become economically necessary to the largely agricultural South, and because considerable capital was tied up in them. In many cases, loans were secured by the value of slaves attached to a property. They weren’t needed as toys of amusement or abuse, although that certainly happened from time to time, just as some people stupidly abuse their cars or the personal property and tools they need to earn a livelihood.

    A further proof is the example of Britain. Slavery was just as ingrained in Jamaica and the other sugar Islands in the Caribbean as it was in the South. But when the Brits outlawed slavery in the Empire in 1834, they recognized two principles. First, that the slaves represented property that had been lawfully acquired, and that a simple government taking of this private property was unjust and wrong. And second, that there needed to be a period to allow both the newly freed slaves and their former owners to transition to new circumstances.

    They dealt with the first issue by paying out (£69.93 billion today) as compensation to the owners, and with the second by a scaled period of paid ‘apprenticeships’ for the slaves, the last stage of which ended in 1840. Both the slave owners and abolitionists saw the essential justice in this. The peaceful result, I’d argue, was much better for both slaves and slave owners.

    What happened in America was largely the result of a dysfunctional president, James Buchanan, who refused to pursue any kind of reasonable settlement while it might still have been possible. And who actually, believe it or not, made the speech as a lame duck in late 1860 that encouraged South Carolina to secede.

    And of course, the Abolitionists, who insisted on immediate freedom for the slaves with little practical regard for the effect on the slaves or the economic effect on the South.

    In the 1860 election, the abolitionists were not only a power in the Republican Party but basically Abraham Lincoln’s sole political constituency in a bitter election that was split between no less than 5 candidates, all of whom got substantial votes.

    Lincoln was actually unable politically to offer the South anything remotely like the British plan, and by that time the South was unwilling to accept it, most likely. Although, of course, we’ll never know.

    So a totally unnecessary war, but made inevitable by sheer folly.

  • Sorry,must have forgotten a bit of necessary html! My apologies.

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